Friday, July 15, 2016

Ghostbusters (2016)

I was born in 1983, which makes me officially "old" in Internet years, so I'm afraid I'm about to ramble as old folks are wont to do before I get to my damn point. So please bear with the old fogey on this.

Now, being born in 1983 just barely cut me off from being a part of Generation X and for many years my generation didn't really have a catchy name. About the closest we had was "Generation Y" and doesn't have a great ring to it, no matter how appropos it may be.

At any rate, eventually we got lumped in with Millennials, which may be the widest net cast since most designations of "Millennial" include anyone born from 1982 to the year 2000. It makes a perverse sort of sense, though, since my generation went from landlines and video stores in our childhoods to smartphones and Netflix when we were entering adulthood. We were definitely at the perfect age to appreciate what the 21st Century had to offer, while still having just enough of a sense of what life was like before to be able to share annoying stories no one cared about.

"In my day, you never knew if the video store was out of the movie you wanted or if they were the kind of store that made you take the empty case to the front desk!"

At any rate, while I was alive in the 1980s, I do not remember much of what it was like at the time, whether we mean pop culture or historic events. For one thing, I was too damn young--sure, I was watching a TV news broadcast with my mother when the Challenger exploded, but I was also two years old.

There were other circumstances, as well. I grew up in a town where there were four broadcast channels and my parents have never had cable in my entire life. My mother also refused to let me watch Saturday morning cartoons for some parental reason that probably made sense at the time. Mind you, I was still allowed to watch the cartoons, but that required renting the VHS collections of a few episodes of shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The point of all this is that while I could have watched The Real Ghostbusters, I mainly knew of the Ghostbusters from the toys from that show, as well as what I had been told by a source that the Internet has rendered all but extinct--the friend who has totally seen that thing you haven't and will tell you a mix of vaguely authentic, incorrectly remembered, and blatantly false details about it. Eventually I got to see the original film--not counting the time I was supposedly traumatized by it as a toddler--and naturally I loved it.

There's a curious aspect to the story here that adult me finds utterly bizarre but was totally normal in the VHS age: after my initial viewing of Ghostbusters, I maybe saw it once more and then never again until it got a new VHS release when I was in high school. (It also hit DVD, but I wouldn't adopt that format for a couple more years) Jaws was a film that changed my life as a 7 or 8-year-old and I also didn't see that film again for almost as long. My family and I just simply didn't buy but a handful of VHSes until affordable releases became a more common thing in the mid-90s, and after a certain age, I preferred to rent movies I hadn't already seen rather than renting and rewatching ones I had.

(Meanwhile, my 2016 self regularly sells movies I already have to make room for more on a shelf of well over 300.)

This is all a rather long-winded way of saying that, like most people, I loved the original Ghostbusters a lot. I never had any toys of it as a kid, but I did once make my own Staypuft Marshmallow Man out of marshmallows, toothpicks, and a marker. However, it's also a good way of showing that while I loved it, it was not so much a part of my childhood as to be held sacred the way that a lot of other movies were--even ones made before I was born.

So while I was very against the Benecio del Toro remake of The Wolf Man, for instance, and I would be furious if Jaws was remade--a reboot of Ghostbusters was never going to upset me. Sure, I was a little disappointed it wasn't just a sequel, and especially when it was announced that it would be an all-women team. I mean, a continuation of the series that had these women taking over the mantle sounded great, but a reboot made it seem like a gimmick; as though nobody could accept women busting ghosts unless you start from scratch.

Of course, if you haven't been living under a rock or deliberately plugging your ears for the past year and a half, you know that there were a lot of people who can't accept women busting ghosts period. Before you could say "Well, actually," a vocal chorus of misogynist nerds made it nigh impossible to have an actual conversation or even a neutral opinion on the film. Especially once its admittedly underwhelming first trailer debuted and these same naysayers conspired to make it the most disliked video in YouTube history.

Naturally, there were claims that it was because the trailer was just that awful or because people are sick of reboots, but A) many of the film's detractors were actually bragging about creating multiple accounts on YouTube solely to vote it down and B) in the past 5 years we've seen terrible remakes of Total Recall, Conan the Barbarian, and even Goddamn Robocop--and despite all of those trailers looking terrible, every single one has far more likes than dislikes. Even the awful 2015 reboot of Fantastic Four, which is often brought up in discussions of this reboot as being an equally offensive idea, has 70,000 likes and only 20,000 dislikes.

Gee, I wonder what makes the Ghostbusters reboot different?

So, yes, I have been firmly in the "pro" camp when it comes to this reboot. I like the idea of an all-woman team, I like Paul Feig's work as a director, I like the cast, I like the ghost designs, and I liked the trailers--which got progressively better as they went along. So there was never any question about whether I was going to see it opening night. So obviously what you're probably wondering right now, particularly after all this build-up, is whether it's actually good film (or, at minimum, better than Ghostbusters II) or if I'm going to have to eat crow and admit that the insufferable neckbeards were right all along.

I'm gonna have to tell you a bit about the film before I can answer that, however. I mean, don't you know me at all?

At the historic Aldridge Mansion in New York City, a tour guide (Zach Woods) is telling a tour group about the dark history of the building. Specifically, how the owner's daughter, Gertrude Aldridge (Bess Rous) murdered all of their servants one night and then was locked away in the basement rather than face public humiliation. Even after later owners uncovered her remains, they reported strange sights and sounds--cue candlestick tipping over.

After the tour group leaves, the guide retrieves his rigged candlestick--but doesn't notice the odd electronic device beneath a table that sparks to life. He does, however, notice when an invisible force bursts out of the basement and accosts him. Unable to escape through the front door and thwarted in his attempt to smash a window, he flees in terror--to the basement. The basement full of glowing slime and a looming spectral figure...

Meanwhile, Dr. Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) is preparing for her course at Columbia University when Ed Mulgrave (Ed Begley, Jr) appears in her classroom with a copy of a book she had co-written years ago with no intention of ever publishing it, "Ghosts of Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively." Erin is horrified since she is up for tenure and this could jeopardize it, but Mulgrave just wants her help since he's the curator of the Aldridge Mansion and no one else believes his ghost story. Erin, however, is more concerned with doing something about that book before Dean Filmore (Charles Dance) gets wind of it.

With that she goes to confront her co-author and old friend, Dr. Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), who is now working for a technical college where she has continued her focus on paranormal studies. Erin is furious at Abby, who believes that she had every right to publish the book without her friend's permission since it was another revenue stream that she desperately needed. Abby then introduces Erin to her colleague, Dr. Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), a brilliant engineer and mad scientist who can make marvelous inventions out of scrap metal.

In the argument over the book, it eventually comes out that Mulgrave had come to see Erin about the haunting at his mansion. Erin tries to get Abby to agree to pull the book from circulation if she will introduce them to Mulgrave and everyone reluctantly agrees.

Of course, when they encounter the actual ghost of Gertrude Aldridge, Erin's cultured disbelief fades. While Abby and Holtzmann monitor the interaction, Erin attempts to make contact with the spirit. However, she only gets coated in ectoplasm for her troubles and then the ghost unexpectedly flees the mansion. All three are elated by the fact that they have encountered a real ghost and declare their next step to be capturing a ghost to study it in a controlled environment.

"Say hi to her", as strategy, works about as well as "get her!"
Unfortunately, the YouTube video of a slimed Erin excitedly declaring, "Ghosts are real!" finds its way to Filmore's office. So much for her tenure and, in fact, her job at Columbia period. Abby assures her they'll have all the funding they need at her college--except that even that dean (Steve Higgins) wants to pretend he has some reputation to uphold. So, after stealing their equipment from the school, the three seek out new digs.

Unfortunately a very familiar firehouse is way out of their budget so they move in above a Chinese restaurant. Meanwhile, Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones), an MTA worker and New York history buff, has a strange encounter with a weird dude whom we'll later learn is named Rowan (Neil Casey), where he assures her that in "the Fourth Cataclysm" workers like her will be freed from menial tasks. That's not a horribly unusual thing for Patty to hear, except then Rowan jumps onto the tracks. Patty follows him and sees the strange device he left on the wall explode in sparks--before the electrified ghost of a death row inmate (Dave Allen) appears and Patty flees in terror.

At the Chinese restaurant, Holtzmann sets about designing equipment to capture ghosts while the team also hires on Kevin Beckman (Chris Hemsworth) to be their receptionist. He's basically a big dumb puppy, but they don't have many options and Erin is nearly drooling over him anyway. And then Patty shows up to tell them what she saw in the subway. The part about the electrical device is particularly intriguing, but there isn't much left of it when they get to the area--after a brief aside where some subway graffiti inspires Holtzmann to create a logo for the group. However, the ghost is still hanging around and after some trial and error, they manage to briefly hold the ghost until a train comes by.

The footage of their ghost encounter makes the news this time, where they are dismissed as frauds by a so-called expert. However, while Holtzmann finetunes their proton packs, Patty joins up with them to offer her knowledge of New York history and the use of her uncle's hearse--which Holtzmann gleefully customizes, complete with the best hood ornament ever.

I want twenty.
The team then answers a call at a rock show, where Rowan has placed another device. This one summons a truly demonic creature--and probably my favorite of the ghosts in the film--and the Ghostbusters, as they have now been dubbed by the media, arrive to fight it. On stage they successfully capture the ghost in a trap. With so many witnesses, surely they are legitimate now, right?

The most unrealistic part of this scene is the idea that Ozzy Osbourne is still relevant.
Well, not so much. After a paranormal debunker shows up at their office and goads the group so much that Erin lets the demonic ghost loose, federal agents Hawkins (Michael Kenneth Williams) and Rorke (Matt Walsh) usher them to a meeting with the Mayor (Andy Garcia) and his aide, Jennifer Lynch (Cecily Strong). The Mayor, Lynch, and the two agents advise that they know the Ghostbusters are for real--however, in order to minimize panic in the city they're going to have to publically discredit them as frauds. The team can continue their studies and help the city, but the Mayor's office is going to treat them like con artist and buffoons in the media.

Well, that's a punch in the gut, but it's about to get worse. The paranormal disturbances are getting increasing and it's clear by now that someone is deliberately trying to break open the wall between the astral plane and ours--someone who has read Abby and Erin's book and actually knows what they're doing, at that. And then Erin realizes that the pattern of the appearances follow ley lines. Ley lines that intersect at the Mercado Hotel, which Patty is able to tell the group is a spot that, like Hobb's End, has been plagued by bad juju for centuries. And looking at the hotel's website, Patty recognizes Rowan among their custodial staff.

The Ghostbusters get to the hotel ahead of the police as Rowan is powering up his device. He gives them a sad sack story about always having been bullied for being different, but since the Busters are four nerdy women they aren't exactly swayed by his suffering. However, they aren't expecting Rowan to grab the electrodes on his machine to commit suicide. Holtzmann shuts the device down, and Lynch appears to thank the group before having them "fake" arrested in front of the media.

Later, Erin is reading through Rowan's copy of "Ghosts of Our Past" and realizes, from all the delightfully specific cartoons he's scribbled in the book, that suicide was actually a part of his plan all along. For even now ghost Rowan is busy possessing Abby, and after smashing some of their equipment possessed Abby almost kills Patty and Holtzmann. And then he possess Kevin and speeds off to switch his device on before you can say "Keymaster." Now the Ghostbusters have to rescue their receptionist ("He just figured the phones out," Holtzmann laments) and save the city--maybe even the world.

"Noooo! You burned my bow tie!"
Well, let's talk about the bad first. Like many a Paul Feig film, this baby needed some editing. I mean, it does seem clear there were some bits edited out--there seems to be have been a falling out amongst the Busters at some point that we never saw and there must have been an excised bit that would have made Kevin's sudden desire to be a Ghostbuster, too, a bit less out of nowhere. However, the film still runs a bit too long and, frankly, some of the bits I wish were cut involve affectionate callbacks to the original film.

Don't get me wrong, there are several cameos in the film and nearly every single one is so perfect that I don't want to spoil them--but one is just poorly thought out because it goes on far too long and is, in fact, split into two scenes when it should have been just one or the other. At that point it stops being a cameo and begins to hijack the film to the point I was glad when it finally ended, And while the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man's appearance is brilliant and I actually found Slimer's role to be delightful, there's no question that Kaiju Rowan's appearance owes a bit too much to Gozer choosing the destructor.

That's not even getting into the fact that Rowan, while somewhat compelling, is just ultimately not as weird as the movie wants us to think he is. I fully buy him as the kind of MRA douchebag who thinks "fake geek girls" are a thing, which he definitely comes across as, but the film wants us to think of him as much more of an obvious creep than he comes across as.

Then there's the Mayor's plot. I get that they didn't want to redo the exact same thing that happens in both of the original films, but the way they worked around that doesn't really work. Aside from the delightful role Cecily Strong plays as a private ally but public enemy of the team and a truly hilarious joke about Jaws, I would have suggested that the subplot be cut entirely. All it really serves to do is sublimate the Ghostbusters into a secret hero role--they even quip that they know how Batman feels--which doesn't really suit this property.

Finally, Paul Feig is great at comedy and characters--the interplay between the four leads is enough to carry it over even its weaker spots--but he's not an action director and the climax suffers from this. While Holtzmann breaking out her proton pistols and going to town is a genuinely amazing sequence, most of the scenes of the heroes fighting a ghost-swarmed Times Square fall too flat.Not only does the Busting tech suddenly start destroying  ghosts instead of capturing them, but you never really feel they're in danger for most of it. It's like watching a Holodeck fight when you know the safeties are actually functioning this week.

All that aside, as I said before this film has an amazing cast that is able to carry the film over the sections where it stumbles. This is a team that I want to see more of, so much so that I don't even mind the gratuitous franchise building that's at play. Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig are great as always and Leslie Jones brings a lot to a role that is criminally underwritten. (Seriously, why didn't they make her someone who has a degree in history but could only find a job as an MTA worker, as opposed to having her be an MTA worker who likes reading about New York history?) However, there's no question that Kate McKinnon owns this film. Her Holtzmann is dynamic, hilarious, and sends off a raw sexuality that is almost completely divorced from the male gaze.

And of course, Chris Hemsworth gives her a run for her money. His Kevin, in lesser hands, would just be a cliche "attractive person who's too dumb to survive", but Hemsworth brings a lot of canny comic sensibility and overpowering charm to the role. He also nails the role both as Kevin and as Rowan possessing Kevin.

Also, I have to say that I dig the ghost aesthetic. They kept it close enough to the original films that Slimer and his lady friend don't clash with the other ghosts, and at times these ghosts are almost on par with the taxi cab ghost in the original for creep factor. I mean, that Max Fleischer-inspired parade balloon ghost is probably gonna give some kids nightmares.

Bottom line, I know my review is not going to sway the people who refuse to admit that this film could possibly be good, but this film delivers exactly what I was hoping for. It's not as good as the original, but it is a damn good time and is leagues ahead of Ghostbusters 2. In fact, it's so good that I am glad that the friends who were supposed to see it with my girlfriend and I had to reschedule, because I am eager to see it again--and I hope it does well enough to give us a sequel that doesn't suck.

Sorry to disappoint a very small percentage of you, but there's no ghost oral sex in this one, folks.
Although, if I had one complaint it's that--as great as the scenes in the end credits were--I just wanted them to roll over this music video for the Japanese release.

I have the biggest crush on this woman, you have no idea.

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